Vaginismus: When Your Vagina Becomes a Barrier to Your Pleasure

Understanding vaginismus: What it is and why it’s important to talk about it

The first time I heard of vaginismus was on Twitter. Pop Crave posted an article with the caption, “Meghan Trainor causes chatter online after discussing her ‘painful’ sex with ‘big boy’ husband, Daryl Sabara, revealing that she can’t walk after sex.” There were thousands of comments making jokes about dick size and berating her for giving too much information about her sex life to brag. Scrolling through the comments, I found others from women berating Pop Crave for setting Meghan up to be made fun of when she was talking about her vaginismus condition. Intrigued, I clicked on the link to read the article to learn more about this condition I had never heard of.

To my surprise, most of the article was a compilation of negative comments similar to the ones on Twitter from the podcast listeners with whom she had shared her condition. It wasn’t until getting to the end of the article that any mention was made of her condition, and it was given in an offhand manner that failed to communicate the fact that vaginismus was the main cause of her pain during sex. I was disappointed but not surprised that, as usual, instead of the media using the opportunity to educate their audience on a condition that affects many women, they chose to sexualize her situation and open her up to ridicule and cyberbullying. Meghan Trainor speaking up about the effect vaginismus has on her sexual life inspired me to research the condition and how women can cope with it. 

What exactly is vaginismus?

Vaginismus is a condition that causes the vagina to suddenly tighten up when you try to insert something into it, making penetration painful or impossible. The vaginal muscles contract as a result of fear or anxiety about the oncoming penetration. There are two main types of vaginismus: primary and secondary. 


Women with primary vaginismus or lifelong vaginismus have never been able to insert anything into their vagina or have felt pain every time something has entered their vagina, like a tampon or a penis during penetrative sex. 


Women who suffer from secondary vaginismus were previously able to have sex without pain but now find it difficult or impossible to do so. 

Statistically, only 1% – 6% of women are recorded as having vaginismus, but doctors believe that it is a condition that is relatively common but underdiagnosed. 

It is important to speak up about vaginismus because it is a type of dyspareunia (pain before, during, or after sex), and according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, three out of four women experience pain during sex at some point in their lives.

Signs and symptoms of vaginismus: How to recognise if you have it

The first sign of vaginismus is pain during sex. It can feel like a burning sensation, or like the penis is hitting a wall. Most of the time, the pain goes away after withdrawal, but sometimes it doesn’t. 

Other symptoms of vaginismus include:

  • Difficulty or inability to use tampons
  • Anxiety or fear of vaginal penetration
  • Discomfort or pain during gynaecological exams
  • Burning at the vaginal opening
  • Loss of sexual desire

These symptoms cannot be controlled without treatment. If you experience these symptoms or believe you have vaginismus, you need to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Causes of vaginismus: Exploring the factors that contribute to this condition

Vaginismus is different for every woman. While some experience it during every kind of penetration and with any object, it doesn’t always happen for others. They may feel the pain during penetrative sex, but not with tampons or during medical exams.

Doctors are not certain about what exactly causes vaginismus, but they believe that psychological factors, such as past traumatic experiences, anxiety, or fear of pain, can play a role in its development, as well as physical factors, such as infections, hormonal imbalances, dryness, and certain medical conditions.

Seeking treatment for vaginismus: Options available and their effectiveness

There are several treatment options for vaginismus, but they differ from woman to woman because the type of treatment you would need depends on the type of vaginismus you have and its underlying cause. Counselling and psychotherapy are effective for treating vaginismus caused by psychological factors, while pelvic floor physical therapy, using dilators and vaginal trainers, and sometimes medication, can also be effective for treating vaginismus caused by physical factors. However, your doctor will work with you to determine the best options for you, which will most likely be a combination of both physical and psychotherapy treatments. Since many women have reported that their doctors could not diagnose them due to not having enough information about vaginismus, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional that specialises in women’s sexual health.

Tips for managing vaginismus: Self-care techniques and lifestyle changes

Getting professional help is important, but there are some self-care techniques and lifestyle changes that can also help you manage the symptoms and enjoy a better sexual life. Kegel exercises can help control the vaginal muscles, and relaxation techniques like deep breathing and meditation can help relax your mind and body and relieve stress, which can contribute to the symptoms. Using lubricants during sex can also help reduce the symptoms. 

In addition, you can explore alternate forms of pleasure like oral sex and clitoral stimulation to enhance your sexual life.

Healing takes time, so be patient with yourself and take it one day at a time.

Overcoming the Stigma: Breaking the Silence and empowering women

Just like most sexual health conditions, there is a stigma attached to vaginismus. This is unfair considering that women who have it have no control over it and it is, in fact, a source of pain for them. Added to that, they may feel frustrated and ashamed because they are unable to experience something that should be “normal” for women. This is why we need to break the silence surrounding vaginismus so that women will realise that they are not alone in their condition. That way, we can create a supportive environment where they will understand that vaginismus is a medical condition and they shouldn’t be ashamed of it. This will empower them and give them the courage to see a specialist for help. It will also help partners of women with vaginismus understand that the clenching of the vagina during sex is not due to an absence of sexual interest from their partner. Openly discussing vaginismus helps to educate others who may not have heard of the condition, raise awareness, and foster understanding.

How to Break Your Silence

Speaking up about vaginismus in public can be hard when you can’t even bring yourself to speak to your partner or health professional about how you feel during penetration. If you’re having a hard time broaching the subject, here are some tips to help:

  1. Think of it like any other ailment, like fever or any other common health condition: It helps to reduce embarrassment or shyness if you think of vaginismus as a general health condition you’re talking to a doctor about.
  2. Choose a trusted and supportive person: If you have never spoken about your condition, it’s important to talk to someone you feel comfortable with and who won’t judge for the first time. If you are not comfortable enough to speak to your partner, try a trusted friend or a family member. It would get easier to speak to a professional or your partner after a supportive first discussion. 
  3. Normalise the conversation: Let your partner know that you’re not alone in experiencing this condition and that it’s more common than people may think. This can help reduce any shame or embarrassment you may feel.
  4. Be specific about your symptoms: When speaking to your partner or health professional, do your best to describe your symptoms in detail as you would any other ailment, including any pain or discomfort you experience.

The role of healthcare professionals: Finding the right medical support

This may seem obvious, but it needs to be said because women are often misdiagnosed and subjected to suffering for years over sexual and reproductive health conditions that can be treated. It is difficult for women to deal with vaginismus on their own, so finding the right professional can make a huge difference in how soon you can get diagnosed and how effective the treatment can be. If you suspect that you have vaginismus, engage a professional who specialises in sexual health or has experience treating vaginismus to give you an evaluation. After diagnosis, they will give you the right treatment options and guide you through the process. 

Healthcare professionals also need to be more attentive and sensitive to the peculiar symptoms that women experience in sexual health, which will make them more alert to conditions that need extra attention and further diagnosis.

Conclusion: The Importance of Advocacy

Vaginismus is a painful condition that affects many women, but it remains shrouded in silence and stigma. Raising awareness will help more women realise that what they’re experiencing is not normal and empower them to seek the support and treatment they need. 

Kudos to Meghan Trainor for speaking up and to every other woman who shared their experiences on that thread. As women, it is important for us to change the narrative of such posts and to create awareness about issues that affect women, especially sexual health, which is often disregarded. 

Advocacy is important because, through it, we can educate the public, healthcare professionals, and policymakers about issues that affect women’s sexual health. You can become an advocate by sharing personal stories or relevant posts,  organising awareness campaigns, or supporting research initiatives on female sexual health.

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